Minneapolis U.S. Courthouse Plaza

Designers: Martha Schwartz, Tom Otterness | City: Minneapolis, MN | Project Type: urban art, sculpture, earth mounds, plaza
Date Visited: 10.12.12

Location: 300 S. 4th St. Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415
Size: 50,000 square feet
Official Opening Date: 1997

While biking to the University of Minnesota East Bank campus, the Minneapolis U.S. Courthouse Plaza caught my eye and I nearly braked to a complete stop in the middle of rush hour traffic. At the corner of South 4th and 3rd, I saw the most peculiar–and yet oddly familiar– bronze figures perched on top grassy earth mounds rising out of a striated plaza.

Curiously enough, there is no signage on site indicating the origins of the fun, cartoon-like figures or the earth mounds. I wandered around the plaza space looking for clues, but all I found were the little statues in their whimsical scenes: some were mowing the grass mounds, others carrying a fallen comrade, and still another was taking pictures of a giant bronze rock mountain pile. After a little digging on the internet, it turns out it’s no surprise that this plaza seems familiar–the landscaped earth mounds were designed by Martha Schwartz, whilst the funny statues–called Rockman–were by Tom Otterness, the same artist behind the bronze cartoon-like statues in Cleveland’s Eastman Reading Garden.

Completed in 1997, the rising grassy earth mounds in the 50,000 square foot Courthouse plaza drew inspiration from Minnesota’s natural landscape during the Ice Age, or more specifically, from its glacial drumlins, “elongated whale-shaped hills formed by glacial ice; the word is derived from the Gaelic word druim “rounded hill,” or “mound”. The mounds are planted with Jack Pines to further the landscape comparison.

The plaza was also the recipient of a number of awards, from a 1999 Merit Award from the American Society of Landscape Architects to a 2000 National Endowment for the Arts Federal Design Achievement Award.

Though the undulating landscape is a curiosity in itself in flat downtown Minneapolis, the best parts are the popular Rockman sculptures by Otterness. The little bronze creatures are such a fantastic addition to the landscape and are so creatively placed in a variety of fun situations that they should be more than enough to brighten up any cold and windy Minneapolis day.

2 Responses to “Minneapolis U.S. Courthouse Plaza”

  1. I just ran into these last weekend and had no idea what they were as there is still no signage (that I could find anyway!). It was eclectic and brought a large smile to my frozen face (it was less than 12 F!).

  2. Sonja Johnson says:

    The Otterness signature is on a lower rock of the tall-rock-piled Rockman (the one with a bird on his head). See the first, eighth, and tenth pictures above.

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